Hurlburt Field MWD handler proves she can do it better

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Amanda Flower-Raschella
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

A sea of emotion covers her face while describing her first deployment and the moment she was struck by an epiphany that would forever change her.

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Jessica Poteet, a military working dog handler with the 1st Special Operations Security Forces Squadron, was on her first deployment in Baghdad and it was an interesting one, to say the least. She was one of two females attached to an Army unit. While there, her interest was sparked by an Army sergeant who worked with canines.

“Just watching him work and the bond that they had between dog and handler, I was like ‘I want that,’” Poteet said.

Poteet anxiously applied for the position of MWD handler and was accepted. After 11 ½ weeks she had completed the handler’s course. While she was excited to see what her new career had in store for her, she was also realistic about the hurdles she would surely have to overcome.

While shaking her head she explained that confidence hadn’t always come so easily to her. When she was initially accepted the position of MWD handler she was tremendously shy. Since then, her career has forced her to get out of her comfort zone and with that, brought many opportunities for which she is grateful.

“The difference I have seen in Staff Sgt. Poteet from when we met until now, besides her now being a mother of two beautiful kids, is a lot more self-confidence and drive towards her career goals,” said Tech. Sgt. Elvin Jose, a plans NCO in charge with the 1st SOSFS and Poteet’s former kennel master.

Poteet has worked with four dogs and each had their own personalities and touched her heart deeply, but she exuberated a special kind of sparkle when she mentioned her second four-legged partner, Pita. This particular canine was one of the most aggressive MWD’s at her shop and together the two were unstoppable.

Poteet and Pita worked together for five years and when the time came for Pita to retire due to hip dysplasia and muscle deterioration, there was no question in Poteet’s mind where she would go: the Poteet residence. Some were skeptical, considering Pita’s aggressive behavior, but Poteet was certain it was the right choice. As soon as she got Pita home, she fit right in with the other three dogs and Poteet’s daughter.

“I took her home and she was perfectly fine,” Poteet said with a proud smirk on her face, “It was like a completely different dog.”

Her face took on a pained expression when she explained that after having Pita for about a year, she made the decision to put her down due to a decline in her health. When the time came, she said her goodbyes in the comfort of their home so that Pita would feel as much peace as possible.

Poteet has been a MWD handler for about 7 ½ years now. When initially joining the military, her motivation was following in the footsteps of her family members who were before her. Since becoming a handler, she is motivated by the bond that she shares with her dogs.

“As long as she is a K9 handler,” Jose said, “Our MWD’s will continue to receive the best care and love they deserve.”

In the same way that Pita was able to prove wrong the judgment of others, so did Poteet.

The frustration could be heard in her voice as she described several scenarios where she was discriminated against for being a female military member. One scenario involved an older gentleman who saw her in uniform and assumed that her father must have wanted a boy instead. Another involved a nurse who assumed the bracelet on her arm during the birth of her child was because her husband was in the military. She was taken aback when Poteet politely corrected her.

She was insulted by the insinuation that she may not be as capable as others because of her gender. At times she isn’t even given the opportunity to try. Not surprisingly, she stated that this has only pushed her to want to prove them wrong.

“If you can do it, I’m going to do it better,” Poteet said, “And that’s been my mentality since I joined.”